Friday, December 30, 2016

The end is always the beginning of something new

The morning I heard the howling.
This morning I typed "The End" to the Yellowstone Howling story.

It was just like in the movies … except for the iconic sound of the typewriter keys clicking those last six letters and the kinesthetic feel of pulling that last white sheet from the rollers.

So, I guess it wasn’t much like the movies at all except for the slight blip of adrenaline that signaled “done,” the story told. I'm sitting here now surrounded by friends I've lived with for the past year, friends who have taught me many things and taken me to new places.
Janey: when compassion pulled her away from her ordinary life, she discovered a deep well of courage that carries her into a new one where adventure awaits.
Stella: pain opened a doorway to her past and a pathway to her future.
Jesse: struck by heart-breaking tragedy, he makes a choice that sets this story in motion, a choice that changes everything.

There is one character in the story that did not need fiction. She already was a hero, already a leader, already a rock-star in the eyes of her world. We gave her a name, because that's what we do. Wolf 06f we called her and she became a legend in the world of wolf-watchers. Rick Lamplugh in his tribute to her gives us a glimpse of her life.
I think, of all the characters in the book, I may miss her the most. I already know the others will show up in future books (Jesse is already staring in Mobius Dreamtime which should be out summer of 2017 and Janey is off to Mexico where I know she will find an adventure). 
But, while the legend of Wolf 06f lives on and her genes still roam the woods and valleys of Yellowstone, her story has been told and I know there is little chance that I will spend time with her again. And, that time spent discovering her story has been a gift.
Knowing my time with her is over makes me sad. My only consolation is the hope that my small telling of her story touches people and helps them understand the incredible beauty of the wild world we all came from and lost when we traded it in for safety and the security of full bellies.
I know this ending will lead to new beginnings, but for the moment, I'm just sad.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Beta-Readers needed for Yellowstone Howling

Finally, the story is told … it’s not a long story … about 70,000 words at present count. (Most novels run 90 - 120,000 words.)

Bear Cubs at Play - May, 2016
The important questions … does it make sense? does it have impact? do you understand what the characters are trying to do and what’s driving them to do what they must do? … are questions only readers can answer.

You are invited to become a beta-reader. At this point, I’m not looking for word-smithing or copy-editing; simply your reaction to the story and the characters. You will receive a suggested list of questions and the beta-reading needs to be done by February 28, 2017
Beta-readers will be acknowledged in the book and receive a free, signed copy when it is released. Limited to the first 20 readers who volunteer. If you are interested in reading this story, send me an email at jwycoff at me dot com.

Story description:

It began as an act of compassion, something of a “why not?” lark: simply two ordinary women trying to help a broken-hearted, guilt-ridden teenage boy. The journey took them to Yellowstone National Park where they discovered wolves, grizzlies, bison, as well as unexpected pieces of themselves. In a land that speaks with many tongues, they discover a secret that changes everything.

Some say the wolves changed the rivers of Yellowstone. Some say life can turn on a dime. They seldom tell you that you probably won’t notice the dime when your life steps on it. And, they almost never tell you that there is a wolf just waiting to change the river of your own life.
Believe it, though. It's true!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Tiny Horrors

Handcuffs for a child. (Background)
There are some things we just almost can’t comprehend.

One of the joys of the writing journey I’m on is discovering new things about the world. Seeing wolf puppies for the first time, watching black bear cubs romping through the woods, seeing first-hand the thermal power of the earth displayed in a kaleidoscope of color and forms throughout Yellowstone.

With that beauty and wonder, however, sometimes comes reminders of a past that rips apart my fairy tale about being human. I believe in the goodness of the human heart, but researching this book has forced me to pay equal attention to the dark shadow that follows every step we take.

Today’s reminder came in the form of handcuffs, tiny handcuffs, made to control small children as they were taken away from reservations to boarding schools where they were taught to “assimilate” (translation: look, act and talk like white people.) (Too much more.)

This story I’m writing is FICTION. Meant to be an adventurous journey taken by two, sixtyish women and a teenage boy. I wanted it to be realistic enough to include life and death, pain and joy, love and hate. But, it keeps pulling me into places I had no idea existed and definitely didn’t plan on visiting. 

This morning’s discovery almost knocked me out. I knew enough history to know about the attempts to assimilate Indian children and about the boarding schools. But, I didn’t know enough to think about them as anything more than misguided. Fortunately, there are people thinking about these things on much deeper levels.

Somewhat offsetting the heartbreaking handcuffs shown above, I discovered Upstander Project dedicated to helping "bystanders become upstanders through compelling documentary films and learning resources.” 
One of the documentaries they will release later this year is Dawnland, the remarkable story of a unique project of truth and reconciliation around a centuries-old practice of taking Native children away from their families.

When most people hear about children ripped from their families, they think of faraway places or of centuries past. The reality is it's been happening in the U.S. for centuries—and is still happening today. Native American children are more than twice as likely as non-Native children to be taken from their families and put into foster care, according to a 2013 study.

In Maine, a group of Native and non-Native leaders came together to acknowledge and address the abuses suffered by Native children in the hands of the child welfare system. Thanks to their commitment, the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in 2012 to seek the truth and bring healing to those affected.

Dawnland is the only feature-length documentary to tell the inside story of this historic, first of its kind commission and the individuals—both Native and non-Native—who boldly and publicly came forward to share their stories of survival, guilt and loss, in order to illuminate the ongoing crisis of indigenous child removal.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The video that started it all: How Wolves Change Rivers

Click here to watch video.
This video burrowed its way into my imagination and just stayed there waiting for me to do something with it ... like write a novel.

Seemed simple enough. I already wanted to write about an ordinary, mature woman who goes on an adventure. So, she could go to Yellowstone and see the wolves.

Before long, her friend and co-worker wanted to be part of the story. Then a broken-hearted teenage boy said, "I want to go, too." Suddenly this unlikely trio is on their way to see the wolves. Only what they find when they get there changes everything.

The video is remarkable and beautifully done.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wolf Genealogy Kickstarter Project

Click here to watch the video.

Wolf restoration to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem stirs the imagination of onlookers across North America and the world. Tens of thousands follow their lives, movements, successes and challenges. To know the wolves one needs to know their family genealogies. Each year we produce a chart showing individual wolves and their packs which is available at A long-term history and genealogy was chronicled in my book Charting Yellowstone Wolves (2012 Jim Halfpenny). However, wolf information is dynamic and changes rapidly. In order to keep up with the wolf pedigree we now want to take their lives online. This project will allow thousands of students, teachers and fans immediate access to Yellowstone wolf genealogies online and to produce their own written records.

Contribute to this important project.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Buffalo War

Click here for more info about the film.

THE BUFFALO WAR is a tough film to watch. It is a complicated story that no one wants to exist. 

This is the moving story of Native Americans, ranchers, government officials and environmental activists currently battling over the yearly slaughter of America's last wild bison.

Yellowstone National Park bison that stray from the park in winter are routinely rounded up and sent to slaughter by agents of Montana's Department of Livestock, who fear the migrating animals will transmit the disease brucellosis to cattle, despite the federal Department of Agriculture's urging that this is unlikely.

Featured in this film is a 500-mile march, a spiritual sacrifice to the buffalo, across Montana by Lakota Sioux Indians who object to the slaughter. Led by Lakota elder Rosalie Little Thunder, who recalls the old prophecy that as long as there are buffalo, the tribes will survive. The marchers express their cultural connection to bison and display the power of tradition and sacrifice.

They call it spiritual activism, but sometimes it calls for more than token sacrifice.

“The only true offering we can give to the buffalo or to mother earth is our own flesh,” Rosalie Little Thunder says as an introduction to a piercing ceremony, one of pain and self-mutilation that most of us cannot comprehend.

“The buffalo are important to us,” she explains. “This is what we can do. This is how deeply we care."
Woven into the film is the civil disobedience and video activism of volunteers with the Buffalo Field Campaign as they use their own bodies to shield the process of the buffalo slaughter, and express their grief as they, too often, fail. Also shown are the concerns of a ranching family caught in the crossfire and the portent of future problems as the area is increasingly developed.

In the winter when this film was made, 142 buffalo were captured, 90 were sent to slaughter and six died as a result of injuries from the trapping.

Culture tests later showed that 80 percent of the buffalo slaughtered between 1996 and 1999 were not infected with brucellosis.

Thousands of wild bison make their home in Yellowstone National Park, a haven for wildlife. Unless it leaves the boundaries of the park. Bison don’t read signs and the harsh winters of the park often lead them to migrate to the lower elevations of Montana, mostly public lands often leased to ranchers, as well as some private ranches.

It’s there in those unprotected ranges that one part of a bison's trouble begins. For this peaceful animal, recently declared our national mammal, there are two enemies: brucellosis and the bison's own success at surviving tough times.

Brucellosis is a disease that causes abortions, infertility, and lowered milk production in cattle as well as bison and is transmissible to humans as undulant fever. The disease is responsible for devastating losses to ranchers and has been a major target of disease eradication efforts. Officially, 48 states have now been declared brucellosis-free.

However, blood testing shows that about fifty percent of the Yellowstone bison herd tests positive for the disease.  The assumption is that they are infected with brucellosis but that can’t actually be determined without culture testing which can only be done if the animal is killed. It is possible, although not probable, that the disease could be transmitted to domestic cattle if the bison are actually infected. Since brucellosis is transmitted primarily through birthing material, many researchers believe transmission would be unlikely since cattle generally do not come into contact with bison birthing material.

Additionally, it is currently illegal, according to state and federal laws, to move wild bison anywhere except to a meat processing facility. In other words: slaughter.

The slaughter isn’t limited to the "trespassing" bison, though. Even the ones that stay within the seemingly safe boundaries of the park are at risk. Because ranchers feared brucellosis-infected bison coming into contact with their domestic cattle, the state of Montana sued the National Park Service in an effort to prevent bison from leaving the park.

The court-ordered settlement resulted in an Interagency Bison Management Plan to be implemented by the park and seven partners. This plan established a target bison population for the park of 3000. In good years, the herd population swells beyond the planned target and the Park Service is required to cull the herd. Since 2000, the herd has averaged 4000, requiring an annual population reduction, achieved by hunting outside the park and slaughter, with the meat and hides being distributed to local Native American tribes.

The film shows activists bicycle-locking themselves to cattle guards and transport trucks and building road blocking structures, forcing the Montana Department of Livestock personnel to have police escorts during their roundups and trapping.

However, Native Americans and activists aren’t the only people protesting the slaughter. Former Yellowstone National Park Superintendent, Michael Finley asks why we’re killing bison when they are migrating out of the park during the winter months, a time when cattle are no longer on those lands. 

Jeanne-Marie Souvigney, Conservationist, Greater Yellowstone Coalition states, "Bison and cattle can use the public lands at different times of the year, bison in the winter and cattle in the summer and there should be no conflict.” She explains that this sharing of lands is typical in the Tetons area of Wyoming and wonders why Montana is so bent on slaughtering the animals.

Not all the animals rounded up are slaughtered. Routine blood tests result in animals that test negative being returned to the herd.

More Information:

Yellowstone National Park Bison Management Overview


Saturday, July 9, 2016

MacNeil Lyons: Yellowstone Guide Extraordinaire

Far away ... but what a beautiful voice.
It was mid-May, cold, very cold, and predictions called for rain. But, my guide for the day, MacNeil Lyons, had hot coffee, breakfast, spotting scopes and, most importantly, a knack for knowing where the animals were ... and where they would probably go next.

It wasn't until I reached Gardiner and started hearing people rave about MacNeil that I was sure I had made the right decision when I booked a guide for the day. But, it wasn't until we were out in the filed that I understood why they were raving.

I wanted to see wolf puppies so, after glorying in a spectacular sunrise, we went to a den site where I saw three gray wolves tending puppies (the ones we saw were black) ... including one being carried back to the den after wandering off. Then, two young wolves took off and wound up chasing five big horn sheep across a mountain ridge. Wilderness in action.

We watched bears play, a fox carry a scavenged leg across a field of sagebrush, eagles, bison, elk ... everything you hope to see on a day in Yellowstone. But, the most amazing part came when we stopped to watch a couple of wolves traveling through groups of bison along a ridge by Soda Creek. 

We were tracking them with scopes to see if they would cross the road when I heard it. Howling.  

We turned and saw the wolf in the photo above, apparently watching the two we had been following with our scopes. They began to communicate and I had the most amazing experience listening to them. I didn't even realize how much I had wanted to hear the howling until it began. Priceless.

In between incredible animal watching, MacNeil explained the Yellowstone ecosystem and told stories. He even offered a lesson on how to spot more animals ... which turned out to be as much about life as it is being successful in Yellowstone. Below is the brief version: (you can see the full article here).

MacNeil's Rule of 4Ps:

Patience: Be in the moment and focus on the subject at hand.
Practice:  Be familiar with the subject you are observing to anticipate its next movement and behavior.
Persistence – Don’t think you can experience Yellowstone for just one day with a “Top 10 List” of what you want to see and expect to see it.
Pays – If you are patient and you practice the above mentioned and are persistent, it just might pay off in a one-of-a-kind digital image or mental image.

The day with MacNeil turned out to be a critical element of the Yellowstone Howling book. I'm hoping the book will be "done" late fall and that I will have done justice to the incredible world of Yellowstone and to MacNeil's guidance.